Productivity: Working towards a summary of what we know

Epistemic effort

  • Spent 20-30 hours re­search­ing what we know about pro­duc­tivity. About an hour a day for two weeks, plus a few more days where I ded­i­cated more than an hour to study­ing pro­duc­tivity.

  • Skimmed through the en­tire archives of Cal New­port’s blog (the au­thor of Deep Work, which I had read about a year or two ago), and read the posts that seem most use­ful.

  • Searched through less­ and lesser­ and read rele­vant and use­ful posts, in­clud­ing How to Beat Pro­cras­ti­na­tion.

  • Searched Google and Google Scholar for aca­demic re­search on pro­duc­tivity (I couldn’t re­ally find any­thing).

  • Read a few Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view ar­ti­cles on pro­duc­tivity, start­ing with For Real Pro­duc­tivity, Less is Truly More.

  • Read a few sum­maries of Get­ting Things Done, by David Allen. Watched his Ted Talk.

  • Read through about 5-7 pages of the high­est voted ques­tions on the Per­sonal Pro­duc­tivity Stack Ex­change and went down some link rab­bit holes.

  • Spent about two hours think­ing about how to cat­e­go­rize pro­duc­tivity ad­vice.

  • I have a de­gree in neu­ro­science, know a de­cent amount about cog­ni­tive sci­ences more gen­er­ally, and have read var­i­ous re­lated books such as Peak by An­ders Eric­s­son, which re­views what we know about ex­pert perfor­mance.

  • Spent about 20 hours writ­ing and edit­ing this post.


I’ve come across a lot of pro­duc­tivity-re­lated ad­vice over the years. Tips, tricks, blog posts, books, etc. I feel like I know a de­cent amount about pro­duc­tivity, and that I should be pretty damn pro­duc­tive. Un­for­tu­nately, the knowl­edge I’ve ac­cu­mu­lated doesn’t seem to have trans­lated into ac­tual suc­cess. Ac­tual pro­duc­tivity.

So then, a few weeks ago I de­cided that enough is enough. That I need to take a step back and re­ally spend some time “get­ting bet­ter at pro­duc­tivity”. In or­der to “get bet­ter at pro­duc­tivity”, I figured that I should start off do­ing some re­search. Why try to figure things out my­self when I could just start off stand­ing on the shoulders of oth­ers? This post out­lines and sum­ma­rizes what I have found in my re­search.

I ini­tially wasn’t plan­ning on writ­ing this post. I don’t study pro­duc­tivity pro­fes­sion­ally. I’m not the most qual­ified per­son to be do­ing this. I’ve only spent 20-30 hours re­search­ing this, so there must be a lot of things I’m miss­ing. Still, I think that there are some strong rea­sons for writ­ing this post:

  1. I couldn’t find a similar post that already ex­ists. Maybe that’s just be­cause I’m a bad googler. Maybe it’s be­cause they’re ac­tu­ally hard to find. Maybe it’s be­cause they don’t ex­ist in the first place. I’m not sure which of these are true, but I sus­pect that the last two are true to a no­table de­gree. If not, I apol­o­gize for adding to the pile of shitty ar­ti­cles on the in­ter­net.

  2. My writ­ing style may make things “click” for cer­tain read­ers. Scott Alexan­der just wrote a cool ar­ti­cle about this idea: Non-Ex­pert Ex­pla­na­tion.

  3. Hope­fully com­menters will add new in­for­ma­tion. I am at­tempt­ing to sum­ma­rize what is known (and thought) about pro­duc­tivity, but since I’m not an ex­pert in this field, I ex­pect that my at­tempt at sum­ma­riz­ing will be in­com­plete and im­perfect. I in­tend for this post to be a start­ing point. I hope that read­ers will share their knowl­edge, and per­haps we as a com­mu­nity can cre­ate a pretty awe­some out­line and sum­mary of what hu­man­ity knows about pro­duc­tivity. (I’m not sure what the best way is for us as a com­mu­nity can co­or­di­nate these efforts. I’m happy to con­tin­u­ously up­date this post based on in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by com­menters. I’d be happy to see some­one use this post as a start­ing point, do more re­search into pro­duc­tivity, and then write their own similar post. I guess we can talk about this point in the com­ments.)

Other pre­limi­nary notes

  • This post heav­ily bor­rows from var­i­ous sources. Cal New­port’s blog, Deep Work, Peak, Rest, Get­ting Things Done, and How to Beat Pro­cras­ti­na­tion are prob­a­bly the core ones As Rae­mon notes, part of what makes these re­sources use­ful is that they “provide lots of con­text and anec­dotes and in­spiring speeches that cause you to take the ideas se­ri­ously”. And so read­ing them may be helpful even if you already un­der­stand the big ideas they dis­cuss.

  • As Rae­mon also notes, re­gard­ing beat­ing pro­cras­ti­na­tion and ac­tu­ally fol­low­ing through, this post mainly recom­mends “out­wit­ting” your ba­sic in­stincts. How­ever, there is an al­ter­na­tive ap­proach where you try to “cor­rect” those ba­sic in­stincts, which seems to re­quire more up­front effort, but more effec­tive in the long run. I nor he is aware of too much ev­i­dence sup­port­ing this ap­proach. My per­sonal im­pres­sion is pretty skep­ti­cal of the “cor­rect­ing” ap­proach, but I don’t know much about it and am in­ter­ested in hear­ing from those who do.

High level outline

  1. Un­crowd your mind

  2. Develop your “fo­cus mus­cles”

  3. Prevent procrastination

  4. “Pregame” be­fore deep work

  5. Think hard

  6. Rest

  7. Think easy

  8. Fol­low through

Lower level outline

Note: I at­tempted to cat­e­go­rize things, but I don’t think the cat­e­go­riza­tions are perfect. How­ever, I think it is use­ful to have cat­e­gories, even if they aren’t perfect. I am in­ter­ested in hear­ing how oth­ers would cat­e­go­rize things.

Un­crowd your mind:

  1. Cap­ture your tasks

  2. Get small tasks out of the way

  3. Break tasks into small actions

  4. Underschedule

  5. Deal with psy­cholog­i­cal issues

Develop your “fo­cus mus­cles”:

  1. Em­brace boredom

  2. De­liber­ately train

Prevent pro­cras­ti­na­tion:

  1. Re­move temptations

  2. Use sched­ules/​planning

  3. Use so­cial pres­sure and precommitment

  4. Record yourself

  5. Ex­pect work to be effective

  6. Ac­tu­ally care about the task you’re doing

“Pregame” be­fore deep work:

  1. Use rou­tines/​rituals

  2. Utilize location

Think hard:

  1. Think hard

  2. Utilize ac­tive recall

  3. Utilize spaced repetition

  4. Use a coach

  5. Fo­cus on the wildly important


  1. Take time to decompress

  2. Get enough sleep

  3. Take naps

  4. Take breaks when appropriate

  5. Ex­pe­rience solitude

  6. Exercise

Think easy:

  1. Perform “pro­duc­tive med­i­ta­tion”

Fol­low through:

  1. Reflect

  2. Use a pro­duc­tivity cheat sheet

  3. Re­ward yourself

  4. Pu­n­ish yourself

Un­crowd your mind

Cap­ture your tasks

I have to freeze my Tran­sunion credit re­port. For­tu­nately, I have this writ­ten down on my todo list. If I didn’t, there would be a com­part­ment in my head whisper­ing to me:

Re­mem­ber to freeze your credit re­port… re­mem­ber to freeze your credit re­port… re­mem­ber to freeze your credit re­port. Wait, which credit re­port do you need to freeze? Equifax? Tran­sunion? Yes, Tran­sunion. Re­mem­ber to freeze your Tran­sunion credit re­port… Re­mem­ber to freeze your Tran­sunion credit re­port...

More gen­er­ally, when I don’t write things down, I find that a differ­ent com­part­ment starts whisper­ing to me:

Adam, I have this feel­ing that there are things you need to do, but I can’t re­call what ex­actly they are. This isn’t good. If we don’t figure out what they are, they won’t get done.

When you write out your todo list, both of these com­part­ments get flushed out of your brain. There’s no need to worry about re­mem­ber­ing to freeze your Tran­sunion credit re­port. It’s right there on your todo list. And there’s no need to worry that there is some­thing you’re for­get­ting. You’ll have the con­fi­dence that if there was any­thing you needed to do, it would be on your todo list.

The Get­ting Things Done pro­duc­tivity sys­tem calls this “task cap­ture”.

Epistemic sta­tus: I am not aware of any aca­demic re­search on it, but it makes sense, has worked for me, seems to work for a lot of peo­ple, is the fo­cal point of the most pop­u­lar pro­duc­tivity sys­tem (Get­ting Things Done), and is a part of many other pro­duc­tivity sys­tems. So I’d con­sider task cap­ture to be “very plau­si­ble”.

Get small tasks out of the way

Yes, task cap­ture can help you clear your mind, but it isn’t perfect. Even if you have ev­ery­thing writ­ten down, many peo­ple still have lin­ger­ing feel­ings of “re­mem­ber to freeze your Tran­sunion credit re­port” and “I feel like there are things I need to do, but I can’t re­mem­ber what they are”. So then, if you can get small tasks out of the way, it’s prob­a­bly a good idea.

Get­ting Things Done recom­mends that if a task takes two min­utes or less to com­plete, you should just do it right away. This es­pe­cially makes sense to me when the al­ter­na­tive is spend­ing 90 sec­onds writ­ing it down and figur­ing out which todo list it be­longs to. Of course, two min­utes is a pretty ar­bi­trary amount of time. If you re­ally hate “hav­ing things on your plate”, per­haps five or ten min­utes would work bet­ter for you.

Some­times it may make sense to take an “ad­ministri­tive day” where you just get all of your small tasks done at once. That way, small tasks won’t in­ter­rupt your flow on other days where you’re try­ing to work deeply on a hard task.

Epistemic sta­tus: I am not aware of any aca­demic re­search on it, but it makes sense, has worked for me, seems to work for a lot of peo­ple, and seems to be recom­mended a lot. So I’d con­sider it to be “very plau­si­ble”.

Break tasks into small actions

Which todo list are you more likely to pro­cras­ti­nate on?

  1. ☐ 15 page so­ciol­ogy paper


  1. ☐ 15 page so­ciol­ogy paper

    1. ☐ Research

    2. ☐ Outline

    3. ☐ First draft

    4. ☐ Se­cond draft

    5. ☐ Feedback

    6. ☐ Fi­nal version

If you are a hu­man like me, it’s the first one.

  • “15 page so­ciol­ogy pa­per” isn’t an ac­tion you can take. It’s not re­ally clear what ex­actly the first step is. It feels ex­tremely over­whelming.

  • When you think of it as “many small tasks”, ev­ery time you com­plete a task it feels re­ward­ing and en­courag­ing, and you end up start­ing a suc­cess spiral. When you finish the first draft, it re­ally does feel like you’ve ac­com­plished some­thing. On the other hand, when you think of it as “one big task”, you don’t feel that same sense of re­ward and ac­com­plish­ment as you are mak­ing progress on it.

Epistemic sta­tus: There seems to be acaemdic re­search sup­port­ing this. Luke Muehlhauser men­tioned this point in his awe­some ar­ti­cle How to Beat Pro­cras­ti­na­tion and cited A mega-trial in­ves­ti­ga­tion of goal set­ting, in­ter­est en­hance­ment, and en­ergy on pro­cras­ti­na­tion. In ad­di­tion to the aca­demic re­search, it makes sense to me and the anec­do­tal ev­i­dence I’m aware of also seems to strongly point to­ward it be­ing true. With all of that said, I’d go with “pretty strong” on this one.


Con­sider the fol­low­ing sched­ule:

  • 9:00-9:30: Shower, brush teeth, get dressed

  • 9:30-10:00: Breakfast

  • 10:00-12:00: Class

  • 12:00-12:30: Lunch

  • 12:30-3:00: Study

  • 3:00-5:00: Class

  • 5:00-6:00: Work out, shower

  • 6:00-10:00: Din­ner date

It seems pretty stan­dard and rea­son­able at first glance. But that’s be­cause you suck and you’re com­mit­ting the plan­ning fal­lacy again.

  • Break­fast might only take thirty min­utes, but only if ev­ery­thing goes perfectly. If ev­ery­thing doesn’t go perfectly, you’ll end up feel­ing stressed and rushed to get to class on time.

  • Your work out and shower might take ex­actly an hour, but what if the show­ers are all oc­cu­pied? Are you go­ing to show up to your date smelly?

The point is that this sched­ule might work out perfectly, but it usu­ally won’t. Which means you’ll usu­ally be stressed from be­ing be­hind sched­ule.

Why not un­der­sched­ule and give your­self more lee­way? Yes, it might mean that you won’t squeeze as much in to the day as pos­si­ble, but it also means that you get to en­joy peace of mind. This peace of mind will help you to fo­cus hard and work deeply.

Epistemic sta­tus: I have a pretty strong in­tu­itive sense that this all is true. There isn’t one spe­cific post (that I re­call), but Cal New­port’s blog talks about this topic.

Deal with psy­cholog­i­cal issues

If you suffer from de­pres­sion, anx­iety, or some other psy­cholog­i­cal is­sue, it cer­tainly will hurt your pro­duc­tivity. There is plenty of aca­demic re­search that shows this. And it’s just com­mon sense.

I don’t see this point men­tioned much in the world of pro­duc­tivity. Maybe this is be­cause it’s pre­sumed to be ob­vi­ous.

Or maybe it’s be­cause “ab­nor­mal” peo­ple are con­sid­ered be­yond the scope of pro­duc­tivity sys­tems, and in­stead part of the scope of medicine. But I don’t re­ally think this makes sense.

  1. Tons of peo­ple suffer from psy­cholog­i­cal is­sues, so they aren’t re­ally “ab­nor­mal”.

  2. Most is­sues fall along a spec­trum, and so even if you aren’t tech­ni­cally “de­pressed”, any sort of de­pres­sive feel­ings you may have will harm your pro­duc­tivity.

Any­way, I’d just like to em­pha­size that if you suffer from any psy­cholog­i­cal is­sues, those is­sues are prob­a­bly hurt­ing your pro­duc­tivity.

Epistemic sta­tus: Strong.

Develop your “fo­cus mus­cles”

Em­brace boredom

Imag­ine that you are wait­ing on line for a coffee. There are two peo­ple in front of you. If you’re like most peo­ple, you’ll prob­a­bly take out your phone to oc­cupy you while you’re wait­ing.

Imag­ine that you are driv­ing and you pull up to a red light that seems to have about 30 sec­onds on it be­fore it turns green. If you’re like most peo­ple, you’ll prob­a­bly take out your phone to oc­cupy you while you’re wait­ing.

Imag­ine that you are at the movies and are wait­ing for the cashier to be ready so that you can pay for your pop­corn. If you’re like most peo­ple, you’ll prob­a­bly take out your phone to oc­cupy you while you’re wait­ing.

Imag­ine that you are tak­ing a shi… ok, I’ll stop.

The point is that we are always seek­ing stim­u­la­tion and that we have lost our tol­er­ance for a lit­tle bore­dom. This trains our minds to be very “jumpy”, and this “jump­iness” can re­ally harm our abil­ity to think deeply.

Ex­cep­tional things — be it ideas, writ­ing, math­e­mat­ics, or art — re­quire hard work. This, in turn, re­quires bor­ing stretches dur­ing which you ig­nore a mind plead­ing with you to seek novel stim­uli — “Maybe there’s an e-mail wait­ing that holds some ex­cit­ing news! Go check!”
Source: Have We Lost Our Tol­er­ance For a Lit­tle Bore­dom?

Epistemic sta­tus: Cal New­port ded­i­cates an en­tire chap­ter to this idea in his book Deep Work. He cites the re­search of Clifford Nass, which found that “con­stant at­ten­tion switch­ing on­line has a last­ing nega­tive effect on your brian”. Both of these things make me feel pretty con­fi­dent that the idea is true, along with the fact that it is al­igned with what com­mon sense and anec­do­tal ev­i­dence point to.

De­liber­ately train

We have “fo­cus mus­cles”, and by train­ing, you can strengthen them. One way of train­ing is by at­tempt­ing to mem­o­rize a deck of cards. Another way is by play­ing chess. Another way is by med­i­tat­ing. All of these things will im­prove your abil­ity to con­trol your at­ten­tion, and this will im­prove your pro­duc­tivity.

This one also comes from Cal New­port’s book Deep Work. In it he gives an ex­am­ple of a stu­dent who has ADHD, spent time mem­o­riz­ing decks of cards, learned to con­trol his at­ten­tion, and im­proved so much aca­dem­i­cally that he got ac­cepted into a pres­ti­gious Ph.D pro­gram.

Epistemic sta­tus: There does seem to be good ev­i­dence that you can train your “at­ten­tional con­trol” abil­ity by do­ing things like mem­o­riz­ing a deck of cards. And it does seem pretty clear that bet­ter “at­ten­tional con­trol” helps with pro­duc­tivity. So then, I feel pretty con­fi­dent that it is a good idea.

Prevent procrastination

Re­move temptations

Re­mov­ing temp­ta­tions is a lot eas­ier than re­sist­ing them. Here are some con­crete tips:

  • Block­ing in­ter­net use:

    • SelfCon­trol is great for those with Macs. The au­thors of SelfCon­trol recom­mend SelfRes­traint and Cold Turkey for Win­dows users. There is a ver­sion of SelfCon­trol for Linux users, but it is out of date and should only be used if you know what you’re do­ing.

    • Up­date 11/​11/​17 thanks to Rae­mon: Free­dom is a paid al­ter­na­tive to SelfCon­trol. The no­table benefits over SelfCon­trol are: 1) can block apps, not just web­sites, 2) sched­ules, 3) synced across de­vices.

    • In­stead of us­ing an app, you could block web­sites by us­ing etc/​hosts. The down­side to this is that you can also un­block them, whereas with an app like SelfCon­trol, you can’t un­block them un­til the timer ex­pires.

    • You can try re­mov­ing the net­work card on your com­puter, if pos­si­ble. Or un­plug­ging your router. (Paul Gra­ham tried dis­con­nect­ing his main com­puter from the in­ter­net, and had a side com­puter across the room he’d use when he needed to use the in­ter­net. This strat­egy didn’t ac­tu­ally work for him though.)

  • Block­ing dis­tract­ing things on the in­ter­net:

    • AdBlock is usu­ally just used to block ads, but it can also be used to block other things as well. For ex­am­ple, I used it to hide the side­bar on Stack­Ex­change so I’m not tempted to click in­ter­est­ing links.

    • Not Now Youtube is a Chrome ex­ten­sion that blocks recom­mended videos from show­ing up on YouTube.

    • Hide YouTube Com­ments is a Chrome ex­ten­sion that hides YouTube com­ments.

    • On Chrome, by de­fault, the new tab page will tempt you with links to pre­vi­ously vis­ited sites. Fol­low these in­struc­tions to make that page blank.

    • Prevent au­to­com­plete in the URL bar. This is how you do so on Chrome.

  • Do your work some­where that doesn’t have any dis­trac­tions. For ex­am­ple, go to the library in­stead of study­ing in your dorm’s lounge.

  • Don’t bring your cell phone with you when you go out to do work. If you re­ally need to have it with you, at least put it in your bag or some­thing rather than keep­ing it in your pocket.

  • I’ve always thought it’d be an in­ter­est­ing idea to have a safe with a timer on it. You would, for ex­am­ple, put your cell phone in it, set the timer for 4 hours, work for 4 hours with­out hav­ing to deal with the temp­ta­tion of your phone, and then the safe would un­lock af­ter 4 hours have passed.

Epistemic sta­tus: Very high. This is com­mon sense, right?

Use sched­ules/​planning

There is a per­haps sub­tle, but im­por­tant differ­ence be­tween sched­ules and plans. At least as I’m op­er­a­tionally defin­ing the terms here. A sched­ule is like an ap­point­ment where you will jump through hoops to make sure that you are “on time”. It is rigid.

Plan­ning is differ­ent. It isn’t rigid. You may plan to eat break­fast from 9:00-9:30 and then work from 9:30-12:00, but if you get a phone call and break­fast takes longer than 30 min­utes, you can ad­just your plan on the fly.

I agree with Cal New­port’s per­spec­tive that plan­ning is usu­ally a bet­ter ap­proach. For most peo­ple, when you try to fol­low a rigid sched­ule, you end up failing, and then giv­ing up on the sched­ule en­tirely. Then you feel bad about your­self and pro­ceed to “wing it”.

With plan­ning, if your break­fast takes 60 min­utes in­stead of 30, you can just ad­just your sched­ule ac­cord­ingly for the rest of the day. No feel­ing bad about your­self. No wing­ing it.

New­port uses daily plan­ning and weekly plan­ning, and he swears by it. How­ever, he also sprin­kles in a lit­tle bit of hard schedul­ing. Long, un­in­ter­rupted chunks of time for deep work can be hard to find, so he recom­mends schedul­ing them four weeks in ad­vance. That way, you can en­sure that you do in fact give your­self those large chunks of time that are nec­es­sary for deep work.

Epistemic sta­tus: Re­gard­less of whether it is schedul­ing or plan­ning, some­thing along those lines cer­tainly seems bet­ter than “wing­ing it”. Anec­do­tal ev­i­dence and com­mon sense seem point to this be­ing true. How­ever, I’m not sure, and I’m not aware of any ac­tual aca­demic re­search on the topic.

As to the ques­tion of schedul­ing vs. plan­ning, I base my view­point largely on my own in­tu­ition. I have a sense that anec­do­tally, peo­ple who try hard sched­ules fall into the trap I de­scribed. But I don’t know many peo­ple who have tried flex­ible plan­ning, and so I guess I haven’t ac­tu­ally ob­served that it works for most peo­ple. How­ever, it has worked de­cently well for me over the past week, and I do have an in­tu­itive im­pres­sion that it will be effec­tive for many. Ul­ti­mately though, my con­fi­dence is not too, too high.

Use so­cial pres­sure and precommitment

Here are some ex­am­ples of so­cial pres­sure:

  • Work alongside a friend in such a way that if you go on Face­book, your friend will see your screen and judge you for pro­cras­ti­nat­ing. This could also work if you are work­ing in a pub­lic place like the library and would be em­bar­rassed if some­one walked by and saw you on Face­book. Another ap­proach would be to liter­ally share your screen with a group of friends, so that if you pro­cras­ti­nate, they’ll see it. Com­plice, which LessWrongers use as a vir­tual study hall, offers this fea­ture.

  • Tell all of your friends that you’ll have your pa­per done by Fri­day af­ter­noon.

  • Check in with your friends at the end of the day and share what work you have got­ten done. You can do this at the end of ev­ery week as well.

The clas­sic ex­am­ple of pre­com­mit­ment is an army gen­eral torch­ing his own ships so that his men couldn’t con­sider re­treat­ing home. A more mod­ern ex­am­ple would be not buy­ing a TV for your home if you want to stop watch­ing TV.

In the con­text of pro­duc­tivity, an ex­am­ple of pre­com­mit­ment is writ­ing an at­ten­tion char­ter where you state ahead of time that you’ll only al­low your­self to be in­ter­rupted un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stances, like if you re­ceive an offer to col­lab­o­rate on a pro­ject that fits your in­ter­ests. If “text mes­sage from friend” isn’t on your at­ten­tion char­ter, you aren’t al­lowed to in­ter­rupt your­self by read­ing and re­spond­ing to it.

Another ex­am­ple would be to sched­ule in­ter­net us­age in ad­vance. That way, you don’t find your­self mind­lessly brows­ing the in­ter­net.

Epistemic sta­tus: There seems to be a good deal of aca­demic re­search sup­port­ing the idea that pre­com­mit­ment is effec­tive. In How to Beat Pro­cras­ti­na­tion, Luke Muehlhauser cites Pro­cras­ti­na­tion, Dead­lines, and Perfor­mance: Self-Con­trol by Precom­mit­ment. If you google around, you’ll come across some more liter­a­ture. I haven’t taken a close look at the liter­a­ture, but I get the im­pres­sion that it’s le­git. My per­sonal im­pres­sion and the anec­do­tal ev­i­dence I’ve come across mostly points to this be­ing true as well.

As for so­cial pres­sure, I’m not aware of any aca­demic re­search. My im­pres­sion is that it works for most peo­ple, al­though I wouldn’t be sur­prised to find that there are some peo­ple who just don’t re­ally care what other think and thus aren’t effected by it. And I’m sure that it de­pends on who is pro­vid­ing the pres­sure. I ex­pect that pres­sure from your lit­tle brother would be much less effec­tive than pres­sure from a peer with high so­cial sta­tus who you’d like to im­press.

Record yourself

In the con­text of com­puter us­age, you can use Res­cue Time. It will record how much time you spend on differ­ent web­sites, and us­ing differ­ent ap­pli­ca­tions (Chrome, Skype, Slack, etc.).

When you’re be­ing recorded, you may find your­self hav­ing sec­ond thoughts about typ­ing in “face­″ to your browser’s URL bar and press­ing en­ter. “Ugh, I don’t want to see that I’ve spend 30 hours on Face­book this week.”

Res­cue Time records things for you, but as an al­ter­na­tive, you can record things your­self. Like how many hours you spent on deep work this week. Or how many hours of TV you watched. Or how many times you med­i­tated. Check out How to Mea­sure Any­thing if you need help com­ing up with good met­rics.

Re­lated: the Don’t Break the Chain tech­nique. With this tech­nique, you ba­si­cally have a streak of con­sec­u­tive days do­ing what you set out to do. I had a friend in col­lege who had a years long streak of run­ning a mile ev­ery day, and when he woke up with the sniffles he cer­tainly wasn’t go­ing to let a runny nose get in the way of his streak. He got up and went for a run.

Epistemic sta­tus: I am not aware of any aca­demic re­search on this. My im­pres­sion is that this is some­thing that works for most peo­ple, but not nec­es­sar­ily ev­ery­one.

Ex­pect work to be effective

Con­sider the fol­low­ing situ­a­tion. You have an or­ganic chem­istry exam in two days. You’re in­cred­ibly con­fused by the ma­te­rial. You’re so far be­hind. You don’t un­der­stand any­thing. Even if you stud­ied, you prob­a­bly wouldn’t pass the test.

With these be­liefs, wouldn’t it be in­cred­ibly easy close your books and turn on Net­flix?

If you don’t ex­pect that your work will ac­tu­ally help you, then it’s pretty easy to pro­cras­ti­nate.

Muehlhauser men­tions three tech­niques to coun­ter­act low ex­pec­ta­tion:

  1. Suc­cess spirals. A se­ries of “small wins” can give you the con­fi­dence you need to ex­pect suc­cess.

  2. Vi­car­i­ous vic­tory. Watch­ing in­spira­tional videos and get­ting in­spired by oth­ers’ suc­cess may change your at­ti­tude.

  3. Men­tal con­trast­ing. Vividly imag­ine what you want to achieve (eg. an A on your test), and then con­trast that with what you don’t want to achieve (eg. an F on your test).

Epistemic sta­tus: There seems to be a lot of aca­demic re­search sup­port­ing this. Muehlhauser’s ar­ti­cle and The Pro­cras­ti­na­tion Equa­tion both in­clude a lot of refer­ences.

In­crease the value of your task

If your task is bor­ing, it will be hard to avoid pro­cras­ti­nat­ing. If your task is some­thing that you don’t care about, it will be hard to avoid pro­cras­ti­nat­ing. Com­mon sense.

But how can you take some­thing bor­ing and make it fun? How can you make your­self care about some­thing that you cur­rently don’t care about?

Muehlhauser’s ar­ti­cle men­tions a few ways:

  1. Flow. If your task is too difficult, make it eas­ier. If it is too easy, make it more challeng­ing. Find that sweet spot.

  2. Mean­ing. It’d be nice if you just in­trin­si­cally cared about get­ting good grades. I cer­tainly didn’t. But even if you don’t, con­sider that good grades can get you into a good col­lege, which can get you a good job, which can make you a lot of money! Does that make study­ing a bit more mean­ingful?

  3. En­ergy. When you’re thirsty, hun­gry or tired, it’s hard to find your tasks to be valuable. You just want wa­ter/​food/​sleep! So make sure you take care of your­self so that you have the en­ergy you need to get to work.

  4. Re­wards. You could always just give your­self a piece of choco­late if you com­plete your task.

  5. Pas­sion. It cer­tainly helps to choose tasks that you’re pas­sion­ate about.

Epistemic sta­tus: There seems to be a lot of aca­demic re­search sup­port­ing this. Muehlhauser’s ar­ti­cle and The Pro­cras­ti­na­tion Equa­tion both in­clude a lot of refer­ences.

“Pregame” be­fore deep work

Use rou­tines/​rituals

This is the depth rit­ual that I have been us­ing be­fore I get started with a pe­riod of work:

  • Turn on SelfCon­trol (which blocks dis­tract­ing web­sites).

  • If my phone is with me, turn it off and put it in my bag (rather than keep­ing it in my pocket).

  • Make sure I have logged off the Mes­sages app.

  • Do I have what I need? Water? Food? Rest? Bath­room?

  • Should I move to a bet­ter lo­ca­tion?

  • Why is this task im­por­tant? (Write out an an­swer.)

  • How am I go­ing to ac­com­plish this task? (Write out an an­swer)

Epistemic sta­tus: I am not aware of any aca­demic re­search on this, and I get the sense that there isn’t any. My im­pres­sion is that this is some­thing that works for many peo­ple, but not ev­ery­one.

Utilize location

Lo­ca­tion can be pow­er­ful. Here are some tips:

Epistemic sta­tus: I’m not re­ally aware of any aca­demic re­search on this stuff other than for spend­ing time in na­ture. I wouldn’t be too sur­prised if there was re­search. My im­pres­sion is that these tips re­ally do provide some benefit for al­most ev­ery­one, but that the benefit is prob­a­bly small.

Think hard

Think hard

Uber suc­cess­ful peo­ple aren’t busy. They don’t work 12 hour days. They of­ten work 4 or 5 hour days. So then, why are they the ones win­ning No­bel Prizes and Olympic medals in­stead of you?

It isn’t be­cause they are “gifted”. It’s be­cause when they work, they work hard.

The books Deep Work, Peak, and Rest all give plenty of ex­am­ples of this.

In my opinion, this seems like one of the most im­por­tant things to do if you want to im­prove your pro­duc­tivity.

Epistemic sta­tus: Deep Work, Peak, and Rest all make pretty strong ar­gu­ments for this idea, in my opinion. It seems that there are many, many ex­am­ples of suc­cess­ful peo­ple who fit this mold. How­ever, I am not sure whether or not there are coun­terex­am­ples. I am not fa­mil­iar enough with the lives of suc­cess­ful peo­ple.

The ex­am­ples of suc­cess­ful peo­ple who fit this mold range from aca­dem­ica, to mu­sic, to ath­let­ics, to perfor­mance, to chess. The idea makes in­tu­itive sense to me. The au­thors mak­ing the arug­ments seem like trust­wor­thy peo­ple. Per­son­ally, I feel pretty con­fi­dent in the idea that deep work, de­liber­ate prac­tice—what­ever you want to call it, it is a ma­jor, ma­jor fac­tor in ones suc­cess.

Utilize ac­tive recall

Ac­tive re­call seems to be in­cred­ibly im­por­tant if you want to be an effec­tive learner.

What is ac­tive re­call? Well, the op­po­site of ac­tive re­call is pas­sive re­view. Read­ing a text­book chap­ter is an ex­am­ple of pas­sive re­view. Watch­ing a lec­ture is an ex­am­ple of pas­sive re­view. Read­ing over your text­book notes is an ex­am­ple of pas­sive re­view. Listen­ing to a friend ex­plain some­thing to you is pas­sive re­view.

Ac­tive re­call is when you cre­ate an out­line of the ma­te­rial you’re read­ing. It’s when you try to ex­plain it in your own words. When you cre­ate di­a­grams. When you sum­ma­rize it. When you throw it out and start over. When you try to pre­dict what will come next. When you think about how it re­lates to some­thing else. When you com­plete ex­er­cises. When you think crit­i­cally about whether or not it is true. When you use it to help you with a re­lated pro­ject. When you use it to make an ar­gu­ment to a friend.

Epistemic sta­tus: Very strong. The aca­demic re­search seems to be there. It makes in­tu­itive sense. My anec­do­tal ev­i­dence sup­ports it.

Utilize spaced repetition

In the above di­a­gram, af­ter 20 min­utes, you only re­mem­ber 60% of what you ini­tially knew. After an hour, you only re­mem­ber about 50%. After 9 hours it’s be­low 40%.

This makes sense, right? After you learn some­thing, it doesn’t just stick and stay there for­ever. You for­get it.

In the above di­a­gram, the sub­ject uti­lizes spaced rep­e­ti­tion. You don’t just study for the first four days, and then never pick it up again. You space your study­ing out in such a way that en­ables it to ac­tu­ally stick long term. First you re­view the next day, then the next week, then the next month—some­thing like that.

Note: There is a lot of soft­ware out there to help you use spaced rep­e­ti­tion. Anki seems to be the most pop­u­lar.

Epistemic sta­tus: Very strong. There has been a lot of re­search done on this. Gw­ern has a great ar­ti­cle cov­er­ing it.

Use a coach

If you can af­ford one, this is prob­a­bly a great idea. An­ders Eric­s­son lists it as one of the key com­po­nents of de­liber­ate prac­tice:

Ar­guably the most fa­mous vi­o­lin teacher of all time, Ivan Galamian, made the point that bud­ding mae­stros do not en­gage in de­liber­ate prac­tice spon­ta­neously: “If we an­a­lyze the de­vel­op­ment of the well-known artists, we see that in al­most ev­ery case the suc­cess of their en­tire ca­reer was de­pen­dent on the qual­ity of their prac­tic­ing. In prac­ti­cally ev­ery case, the prac­tic­ing was con­stantly su­per­vised ei­ther by the teacher or an as­sis­tant to the teacher.”
Re­search on world-class perform­ers has con­firmed Galamian’s ob­ser­va­tion. It also has shown that fu­ture ex­perts need differ­ent kinds of teach­ers at differ­ent stages of their de­vel­op­ment. In the be­gin­ning, most are coached by lo­cal teach­ers, peo­ple who can give gen­er­ously of their time and praise. Later on, how­ever, it is es­sen­tial that perform­ers seek out more-ad­vanced teach­ers to keep im­prov­ing their skills. Even­tu­ally, all top perform­ers work closely with teach­ers who have them­selves reached in­ter­na­tional lev­els of achieve­ment.

How­ever, hav­ing a coach isn’t strictly nec­es­sary. Eric­s­son uses the ex­am­ple of Ben­jamin Fran­klin as some­one who was par­tic­u­larly good at self-guidance:

Ben­jamin Fran­klin pro­vides one of the best ex­am­ples of mo­ti­vated self-coach­ing. When he wanted to learn to write elo­quently and per­sua­sively, he be­gan to study his fa­vorite ar­ti­cles from a pop­u­lar Bri­tish pub­li­ca­tion, the Spec­ta­tor. Days af­ter he’d read an ar­ti­cle he par­tic­u­larly en­joyed, he would try to re­con­struct it from mem­ory in his own words. Then he would com­pare it with the origi­nal, so he could dis­cover and cor­rect his faults. He also worked to im­prove his sense of lan­guage by trans­lat­ing the ar­ti­cles into rhyming verse and then from verse back into prose. Similarly, fa­mous painters some­times at­tempt to re­pro­duce the paint­ings of other mas­ters.

Epistemic sta­tus: It seems pretty clear that feed­back and guidance are both very im­por­tant. It makes sense that it can of­ten be difficult to get these things with­out a coach, and thus that hav­ing a coach would be very use­ful.

I don’t know too much about this though. Maybe it de­pends on the field? Maybe it de­pends on other things? Re­gard­less, An­ders Eric­s­son talks about it a lot and he seems to be the ex­pert on ex­pert perfor­mance, so the fact that he talks about it a lot definitely means some­thing to me.

Fo­cus on the wildly important

It can be easy to get caught up in mun­dane daily re­spon­si­bil­ities and to lose track of the things that ac­tu­ally mat­ter. Fo­cus­ing on the wildly im­por­tant seems to be a good heuris­tic.

Epistemic sta­tus: I re­call hear­ing this ad­vice in var­i­ous forms quite of­ten. In Deep Work, Cal New­port talks about this idea. He gets it from The Four Dis­ci­plines of Ed­u­ca­tion. The idea makes sense to me. I’d say I’m pretty con­fi­dent that fo­cus­ing on the wildly im­por­tant is good ad­vice.


Note: I haven’t ac­tu­ally had a chance to read the book Rest in full yet. I ex­pect that do­ing so would al­low me to add to and im­prove this sec­tion.

Take time to decompress

I of­ten get caught up in this rou­tine where I never quite stop work­ing. Even af­ter din­ner, I still try to fit in an­other 2-3 hours of work. Even at 11pm, I figure it would be good to study for an­other 45 min­utes or so be­fore I go to sleep. Even at 2am when I can’t sleep I figure I may as well get some work done.

No. Just, no.

With this ap­proach, your mind never ac­tu­ally gets an op­por­tu­nity to de­com­press, and that is harm­ful to your pro­duc­tivity.

Cal New­port has a cool idea to com­bat this called a shut­down rit­ual. Ba­si­cally, at the end of your work day, you re­view your todo lists, re­view your cal­en­dar, do what­ever else you need to do, and then say the magic phrase: “sched­ule shut­down, com­plete”. Go­ing through this shut­down rit­ual gives you the con­fi­dence that you are in fact done for the day and any work re­lated tasks can wait un­til to­mor­row morn­ing.

Epistemic sta­tus: Cal New­port talks about the im­por­tance of de­com­press­ing a lot (and cites some re­search, I think?). The book Rest also cov­ers it (and cites re­search, I’m sure). It makes sense to me. I feel pretty con­fi­dent that it is im­por­tant.

Get enough sleep

There is no short­age of re­search show­ing that sleep is re­lated to pro­duc­tivity. So then, if you want to be pro­duc­tive, get enough sleep!

Of course, this is eas­ier said than done. Per­son­ally, I found Pain Science’s In­som­nia Guide and Su­per­memo’s sleep guide to be use­ful.

Epistemic sta­tus: Strong. There is a lot of re­search on this.

Take naps

After read­ing an ar­ti­cle on nap­ping by the Amer­i­can Psy­cholog­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, it seems that some peo­ple benefit from tak­ing naps, but that oth­ers just end up feel­ing groggy. So then, I sup­pose that nap­ping is some­thing that is worth ex­per­i­ment­ing with, but that if it doesn’t seem to be helping you it should be avoided.

Two im­por­tant notes:

  1. If you take your nap too late in the day, it’ll mess with your cir­ca­dian rhythm and make it harder for you to fall asleep at night.

  2. Nap du­ra­tion is very re­lated to whether or not you end up feel­ing groggy. We have 90 minute sleep cy­cles, and if you wake up in a pe­riod of deep sleep, you’ll cer­tainly feel groggy. So it prob­a­bly makes sense to take a short nap and wake up be­fore you en­ter deep sleep, or to take a longer nap of around 90 min­utes so that you have “re­sur­faced” from your deep sleep phase when your alarm goes off. How­ever, if you are sleep de­prived, you make en­ter deep sleep very rapidly, and so even a short nap may make you feel groggy.

Su­per­memo claims that if nap­ping “isn’t work­ing” for you, it is be­cause you are mak­ing one of these two mis­takes.

Epistemic sta­tus: I am not too fa­mil­iar with the re­search on nap­ping, so my con­fi­dence isn’t too, too high, but that APA ar­ti­cle seems pretty re­li­able, and it does make sense that nap­ping works for some but not oth­ers, so I’d say that I’m rea­son­ably con­fi­dent about what I wrote in this sec­tion.

Take breaks when appropriate

A lot of you have prob­a­bly heard of the po­modoro tech­nique, where you spend 25 min­utes or so work­ing, and then 5 min­utes or so tak­ing a break. There is some cog­ni­tive sci­ence re­search say­ing that we need these breaks at in­ter­vals some­where in this bal­l­park.

On the other hand, some­times you’re in the zone and need 3-4 hours to just churn through on some difficult task.

I think it is a good idea to use your judge­ment, and to take breaks when ap­pro­pri­ate.

How­ever, it is im­por­tant to note that the type of break you take is im­por­tant. Play­ing a video game or scrol­ling through Face­book is very differ­ent from tak­ing a short walk. With the former, you’ll have a much harder time “get­ting back into the zone”.

Cal New­port calls the lat­ter Deep Breaks, and has a great ar­ti­cle that elab­o­rates on these idea.

Epistemic sta­tus: As I men­tion in the sec­tion, I hear that there is cog­ni­tive sci­ence re­search sup­port­ing the idea that we need some­what fre­quent breaks. At the same time, my anec­do­tal ex­pe­riences point to the fact that when you’re in the zone, it’s best to just keep prod­ding along. I’m not aware of any re­search on this idea though. And while it makes sense to me, I’ve got to aware of the typ­i­cal mind fal­lacy. Still I have heard many oth­ers share the be­lief that when you’re in the zone, it’s best to keep go­ing. Ul­ti­mately, my con­fi­dence is mod­er­ate.

Ex­pe­rience solitude

What is soli­tude? Lay­ing down at the beach and read­ing a mag­a­z­ine? Walk­ing through the city while listen­ing to a pod­cast? Strol­ling through a mu­seum?

No, no, and no.

Soli­tude is when you are iso­lated from the in­put of other minds. When you read a mag­a­z­ine, you’re “tak­ing in” some­one else’s thoughts—the mag­a­z­ine au­thor. When you listen to a pod­cast, you’re “tak­ing in” the pod­cast cre­ator’s thoughts. When you walk through a mu­seum, you’re “tak­ing in” the thoughts of the artists.

Soli­tude is when you sit on a park bench alone and write in your jour­nal. Soli­tude is when you lay down at the park, stare up at the sky, and day­dream. Soli­tude is when you take a jog through the for­est. Soli­tude is when you go for a hike and pon­der where you are in life.

As you are prob­a­bly sens­ing, soli­tude is im­por­tant. For your pro­duc­tivity, cre­ativity, and emo­tional wellbe­ing.

Check out Cal New­port’s ar­ti­cle on the topic.

Epistemic sta­tus: New­port talks about it. He’s a re­li­able source in my mind. He seems to have got­ten his in­for­ma­tion from read­ing three books on soli­tude. It makes in­tu­itive sense to me. I’d say that I’m mod­er­ately con­fi­dent in the idea that true soli­tude is im­por­tant to ones pro­duc­tivity.


It can be easy to think, “I don’t have enough time to ex­er­cise”. That type of logic is wrong.

There seems to be a good amount of re­search in­di­cat­ing that ex­er­cise is very im­por­tant for ones pro­duc­tivity. This Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view ar­ti­cle may be a good start­ing point.

I also find it note­wor­thy that Paul Gra­ham, who has a ton of ex­pe­rience men­tor­ing startup founders, in­cludes ex­er­cise in his short list of “things you should be do­ing”:

If you’re ever un­sure if you should be do­ing what you’re do­ing dur­ing YC, ask your­self this ques­tion: ‘Am I build­ing our product? Am I talk­ing to users? Am I ex­er­cis­ing?’. If you’re not do­ing one of these things, you’re do­ing the wrong thing.

Epistemic sta­tus: Pretty con­fi­dent. There seems to be a lot of “offi­cial” and anec­do­tal ev­i­dence sup­port­ing it. I would be more con­fi­dent if I were more fa­mil­iar with the re­search.

Think easy

Perform “pro­duc­tive med­i­ta­tion”

In the book Deep Work, Cal New­port calls pro­duc­tive med­i­ta­tion some­thing where you’re oc­cu­pied phys­i­cally, but not men­tally. For ex­am­ple, a walk, jog, bike ride, house clean­ing, gar­den­ing, sow­ing and tak­ing a shower are all ex­am­ples of pro­duc­tive med­i­ta­tion. A lot of good ideas hap­pen dur­ing pro­duc­tive med­i­ta­tion.

Try googling for “good ideas in the shower”. You’ll see that the idea that peo­ple have good ideas in the shower is quite com­mon. A closer look would prob­a­bly find that pro­duc­tive med­i­ta­tion is some­thing that has been dis­cov­ered across time and cul­tures.

Epistemic sta­tus: There seems to be a lot of anec­do­tal ev­i­dence sup­port­ing this. I am not aware of any aca­demic re­search, but the anec­do­tal ev­i­dence alone makes me pretty con­fi­dent.

Fol­low through


As I ex­plain in the Meta sec­tion, I’ve known about all of this stuff for a while, but it hasn’t ac­tu­ally trans­lated into suc­cess for me. I think a big is­sue is that I haven’t spent nearly enough time re­flect­ing.

I hear about a piece of ad­vice and at­tempt to im­ple­ment it. When my at­tempt fails, the in­er­tia of my life kinda just takes over and I never re­turn to the piece of ad­vice. It usu­ally re­mains as “a thing I should be do­ing” some­where in my mind, but I have too many other things go­ing on to find the time to figure out what is go­ing wrong and how I could fix it.

This is stupid of me. Reflec­tion is nec­es­sary. You have to think about what is go­ing right, what is go­ing wrong, and how you can im­prove. You have to iter­ate.

Yes, I may have other things to do, but should they re­ally be pri­ori­tized over re­flec­tion? Prob­a­bly not.

Epistemic sta­tus: I get the im­pres­sion that this is su­per im­por­tant. I re­call Cal New­port talk­ing about it, but I can’t find the right posts to link to. I don’t have enough knowl­edge and ex­pe­rience so I don’t think I’d say I’m more than mod­er­ately/​pretty con­fi­dent about this one.

Maybe I’m just bad at im­ple­ment­ing things. Maybe oth­ers are good at it, and re­flec­tion isn’t too im­por­tant for them. I can think of many peo­ple who strug­gle to suc­cess­fully im­ple­ment things, and who seem to be a great can­di­date for a pre­scrip­tion of weekly re­flec­tion. But there may also be coun­terex­am­ples. And I may hap­pen to sur­round my­self with peo­ple who are bad at im­ple­ment­ing things for what­ever rea­son.

Use a pro­duc­tivity cheat sheet

There is a lot of pro­duc­tivity ad­vice out there. I don’t know about you, but I find it to be rather over­whelming. I find my­self ask­ing, “Aren’t there tech­niques I’m for­get­ting to im­ple­ment?”

A sen­si­ble solu­tion to this is­sue is to have a pro­duc­tivity cheat sheet. Write down the things you should be do­ing, and the tech­niques you want to em­ploy. Keep that piece of pa­per with you when­ever you’re work­ing. Hope­fully that’ll make it eas­ier to fol­low through.

Epistemic sta­tus: Seems rea­son­able. I base this al­most solely on my in­tu­ition, rather than ac­tual ex­pe­rience and data. I don’t even re­ally have any anec­do­tal data on this one. I don’t know any­one who has tried it. Cal New­port has a post on it, and as you know by now, I’m a fan of his, so that causes me to up­date rather heav­ily.

Re­ward yourself

The Big Bang The­ory—Shel­don Trains Penny [YouTube]

When you suc­ceed at do­ing what you set out to do, give your­self a cookie! Or a piece of candy. Or what­ever it is that you find en­joy­able.

Epistemic sta­tus: It seems that there is a de­cent amount of liter­a­ture sup­port­ing this idea. Luke Muehlhauser links to Self-Re­in­force­ment: The­o­ret­i­cal and Method­olog­i­cal Con­sid­er­a­tions in sup­port of re­ward­ing your­self. In skim­ming through it, it seems to in­di­cate that self re­in­force­ment works of­ten enough, but also seems to in­di­cate that there are caveats. If I was more fa­mil­iar with the liter­a­ture, I’d be more con­fi­dent about this.

Per­son­ally, re­ward­ing your­self doesn’t feel like some­thing that will always be effec­tive. I re­call anec­do­tal ex­pe­riences where at­tempts to re­ward one­self didn’t re­ally work out.

Pu­n­ish yourself

When you don’t ac­tu­ally do what you set out to do… PuNiSh YoUrSelF!!!!! Then you’ll think twice be­fore failing to fol­low through. Right?

If you want to give this one a shot, there is Bee­minder and Stickk available to help you out.

Epistemic sta­tus: I get the im­pres­sion that there is aca­demic re­search on this, but I per­son­ally am not fa­mil­iar with it. If I was more fa­mil­iar with it, I would be more con­fi­dent that pun­ish­ing your­self is effec­tive.

Bee­minder seems to have the ap­proval of the LessWrong com­mu­nity. This makes me feel more con­fi­dent that pun­ish­ing your­self for failure is effec­tive.

Similar to the above sec­tion on re­ward­ing your­self, my per­sonal im­pres­sion and anec­do­tal data doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily sup­port the idea that pun­ish­ing your­self is effec­tive. But that’s just me.

Depart­ing ad­vice: Don’t make your­self crazy

One of my fa­vorite LessWrong posts is Rea­son as memetic im­mune di­s­or­der. The big take­away is that some­times, be­com­ing more ra­tio­nal may lead you to have less suc­cess.

In the con­text of seek­ing to im­prove your pro­duc­tivity, I could cer­tainly see this hap­pen­ing.

It has hap­pened to me. Over the years, I have learned a bunch of stuff about pro­duc­tivity. It pro­vided me with some am­mu­ni­tion, but not enough to ac­tu­ally see re­sults. I didn’t quite make it past the thresh­old.

I had learned enough to re­al­ize ev­ery­thing I was do­ing wrong, but not quite enough to tran­si­tion me to a state of suc­cess. So in­stead of mak­ing me feel happy and pro­duc­tive, it made me feel guilty and frus­trated.

Please don’t let this hap­pen to you. Pro­duc­tivity is difficult. If it weren’t then we would all be as suc­cess­ful as No­bel lau­re­ates and Olympic medal­ists.